Coronavirus relief deal at $900B is at hand, Daines says

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders have agreed to provide about $900 billion in COVID-19 aid in a tentative deal that could end months of stalemate, a GOP senator confirmed Wednesday morning.

The emerging pact, reached in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, would funnel about $300 billion in relief to small businesses, provide more money for vaccine distribution and health care workers, and offer a new round of tax rebate checks to households, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said on CNBC.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to see this $900 billion package released today, and this will likely get passed before we go home this weekend,” said Daines, a member of the Appropriations and Finance panels with jurisdiction over major pieces of the aid bill.

The package would not include any new aid to state and local governments, a top priority of Democrats, according to Daines, or liability protection for employers against pandemic-related lawsuits, as Republicans had sought. Those two sticking points had held up talks for months, and leaders agreed to punt on those issues until next year.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., speaking separately on CNN, confirmed that liability protections for businesses would not be attached. “We weren’t able to reach an agreement,” he said.

Politico first reported that congressional leaders had reached a tentative agreement to provide about $900 billion for a new round of coronavirus aid. Sources familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the report and Daines’ account.

Aides to top Democratic and Republican leaders did not immediately comment or couldn’t be reached for comment.

The agreement, which could be unveiled as early as Wednesday morning, must be drafted into legislation that would be attached to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package needed for the current fiscal year. Lawmakers have been racing against the clock to pass that measure by Friday, when current stopgap funding runs dry.

The two parties have struggled for months to reach agreement on a new round of coronavirus relief that both sides said was long overdue. But they differed greatly on how big an aid package should be and what it should contain.

House Democrats last spring sought as much as $3.4 trillion in new aid, while Senate Republicans offered about $500 billion. But a path toward compromise was cleared when a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers this month proposed a $908 billion package.

Depending on how quickly legislation can be drafted, the House could vote on the combined omnibus and coronavirus relief package as early as Thursday. The Senate would take it up shortly thereafter.